Volume 10, Issue 8 - October 2009

Software Savvy

Focusing on Internal Improvement
by Vivek Swaminathan

A continuous focus on improvement is critical to running a successful business—especially in our current economic climate. Technological and societal progress has made it easier to do business and, as such, has increased the number of competitors. This, in turn, has increased the possibility that a new industry leader will emerge if current leaders remain stagnant.

Key First Steps
Taking the time to study where your money and time is being spent, as well as thinking about your core company values, are key first steps to implementing a successful strategy. Redefining values will help you review resources and costs and identify waste and gaps within your business.

I have worked with a number of organizations and know the value in creating a suite of software and tools to help run businesses. These systems tend to be a blend of programs developed internally as well as software that is available in the market. While some companies have the staff capable to develop whatever they want, it is always important to evaluate external options and weigh value and return on investment (ROI) before determining the best course of action. When there are proven software and systems available in the market, I have found that using established tools that meet the defined needs rather than reinventing the wheel is the right choice. On the other hand, using internal resources to develop and manage tools can be extremely valuable when the needs are highly customized or complex (provided you have capable resources to be effective). It is important to have a robust suite of tools to allow you to manage key areas of your operations such as customer service, project management, development, resources and financials. A development management program helps to ensure quality, consistency, transparency, and accuracy in a development process. Resource management tools allow companies to plan and monitor time as well as to gain visibility to capacity or efficiency concerns. This information can feed other operations such as project management and customer service. Tools in these areas allow organizations to manage sales, plan projects, resolve issues, monitor budgets and track communication. Finally, financial tools are vital for managing collections, predicting and monitoring revenue, setting targets, and reducing expenses.

When evaluating software, it is important to understand the functionality that the software provides but also make sure you learn about your vendor. Ask questions about how they run their businesses and what their core principles and goals are. Talk to a few of their key people to make sure you are comfortable with the structure and aptitude across the organization. Request a demonstration of the software and make sure it can handle your requirements. This will help garner a level of trust necessary for a successful relationship and will ensure that you are partnering with a stable and knowledgeable company that continuously strives to improve.

Avoiding Errors
Despite all the benefits mentioned above, there are a few common roadblocks when implementing software. Make sure you make informed decisions by evaluating your needs and implementing the best solution. I’ve seen very large companies operate entirely in spreadsheets, often due to a lack of recognition that the tool does not meet current or future needs. Implementing change when the success factors are not defined almost surely will result in failure and a great deal of stress. While software can provide a great deal of data, extrapolating and analyzing the data available sometimes can be overwhelming. Start looking at some of the data because spending a lot of time deciding how you want to see the data won’t produce any conclusions. I would suggest spending the time to create multiple views of the same data in order to provide the most pertinent information to the appropriate people to track progress and ensure accountability. Finally, when implementing technology, one of the most important things to remember is that technology alone doesn’t solve all of your problems or stop issues from occurring. It can facilitate prevention, productivity and intervention but if the processes or resources in the organization aren’t getting the job done, neither will your company.

Vivek Swaminathan is director of operations for WTS Paradigm in Middleton, Wis. Mr. Swaminathan’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.


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